With a standing-room only audience, the Planning Commission meeting this past Thursday must have set a record for its length! The meeting started at 7 PM on Thursday and 7-1/2 hours later ended at 2:30 AM on Friday! The focus of the night were two projects – the proposed assisted living facility on Russell Road in Paoli and the Conestoga high school expansion plan and its new parking lot on Irish Road.
Although I did not stay until the meeting ended, we do now know that the planning commissioners approved (4-0 vote) the final land development application of Alterra Property Group LLC/Russell Road Partners, LLC to construct a three-story 116-unit assisted living facility on Russell Road. Although the Russell Road area is a residential community, the Alterra property is located in C-1 Commercial District; there are two existing office buildings which will be demolished for the project.
If you recall, back in 2012 the township changed its C-1 zoning to include senior living facilities as a by-right use. At the time, it was argued (unsuccessfully) that the zoning change to C-1 was ‘spot-zoning’ to accommodate a specific project – Daylesford Crossing.
During the last seven years, the township has grown from one assisted living facility (Highgate at Paoli Pointe) to four – Daylesford Crossing, Echo Lake (a massive 3-story, 250-apartment property with 160 independent living apartments and 90 assisted living and memory care apartments) and Brightview Senior Living (gigantic 450+ ft. long, five-story, 55-ft high building next to Whole Foods in Devon with 196 beds) and apparently coming soon a fifth facility on Russell Road in Paoli.
To fully understand the assisted living facility planned for Russell Road, it is important for folks to drive by and look at Brightview Senior Living in Devon – the scope and size of the building is overwhelming. Although the township C-1 zoning only permits a 160 ft. length, the planning commissioners granted a waiver for 450+ ft. for Brightview. Arguably wedging Brightview on E. Conestoga Road into the commercial area next to Whole Foods and Nudy’s and backed up to the train tracks did not directly impact many residential neighbors. But still – the planning commissioners granted a waiver on Brightview for over 3 times the allowed length!
Now we fast forward to the assisted living facility planned for Russell Road (which unlike the commercial location of Brightview) is a quiet residential neighborhood. And yes, we know that an assisted living facility is a by-right use in C-1 zoning but we also know that it only permits a length of 160 feet. Just like the Brightview Senior Living building, the planning commissioners approved a waiver for a 460+ ft. 3-story assisted living building for Russell Road. You have to wonder if the planning commissioners had not approved a waiver that is three times the allowable length for the building – would the applicant have reconsidered the viability of the project.
There’s also another twist to the Russell Road assisted living project and I’m not certain of its significance. The public learned at the meeting that two of the planning commissioners had to recuse themselves on the project due to conflict of interest. Long serving planning commissioner Tory Snyder is married to George Broseman, the attorney for the applicant. When Broseman is associated with any of Tredyffrin Township projects in front of the Planning Commission, the public is accustomed to Tory recusing herself from the discussion. This recusal was expected and not a surprise.
However, an audience member had asked why Peter Jonak (a relative newcomer to the Planning Commission) recused himself for the assisted living facility plan? Turns out that planning commissioner Jonak, owner of Spire Builders, very recently moved his construction office from Lancaster Ave. in Berwyn to Russell Road in Paoli, directly adjacent to the proposed assisted living facility on property owned by Alterra Property Group (the assisted living facility owner). Like I said, perhaps no significance but do find it curious.
The Russell Road neighbors have banded together and hired an attorney, an engineer and created a social media presence under “T/E development out of control” with accompanying lawn signs. Beyond the planning commissioners’ approval for the oversized building, neighbors are concerned about existing storm water issues and fire and emergency equipment on their narrow winding road associated with the planned assisted living facility.
As far as the Alterra Property Group is concerned, the project now has final land development approval – read green light. But where does this leave the Russell Road neighbors? Between the waiver for the 460+ ft. building length and the fire and emergency equipment concerns associated with its design, perhaps they will appeal the decision. An appeal would need to be filed within thirty days with Chester County Court of Common Pleas.
The other major Planning Commission application of the night was the preliminary/final land development for the high school expansion and the new parking lot on Irish Road. After much discussion and public comment until 2:30 AM, the planning commissioners voted 4-2 to approve the project and all associated waivers.
Although the parking lot on Irish Road was reduced to 94 spaces in the final plan, there remains much concern from the neighbors. The Irish Road parking lot and bus pull-off area is located in the R-1 residential zoning district but the use is permitted by special exception. Beyond the removal of many trees to construct the parking lot, the neighbors are concerned about existing storm water issues and pedestrian safety.
So much for slowing down the project to review possible alternatives with the 13 acre eminent domain purchase of the adjacent Doyle & McDonnel property. Apparently, it was stated that not only would the nursery property purchase not impact the expansion plans – it was stated that the high school expansion plans and parking lot would have remained unchanged, even if the District had owned the property when the project was designed!
I remain baffled as to how the additional adjacent 13 acres would not impact the expansion plans and possible alternatives for the parking lot. But according to its most recent newsletter, “The District is proceeding with its plans to bid the project in December with the construction phase starting in the Spring of 2020.”